Manila: The environment department in the Philippines has exposed the ‘massive’ smuggling of gold and other precious metals taking place in the country even as the recorded output of the precious metal has declined by nearly 40 per cent.

According to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), the Mines and Geosciences Bureau reported that metallic mineral production during the first quarter of the current year has declined by a staggering 38 per cent, from 31.40 billion pesos (Dh2.66 billion) to 19.61 billion pesos year-on-year.

“Given the continuing high price of gold and the increasing number of small-scale mining areas, the decrease in gold purchases by the BSP [Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas or Philippine Central Bank] clearly means that gold output is going to the black market and smuggling activities,” DENR secretary Ramon Paje stressed.

Paje said DENR has sought the help of the Presidential Anti-Organised Crime Task Force (PAOCTF) to stop the rampant smuggling of gold in the country. PAOCTF is an agency under the Office of the President.

According to Paje, the seemingly sluggish performance of the metallic minerals sector was largely due to a 92 per cent cutback in gold purchases of the BSP from small-scale miners and traders.

Paje said the BSP’s gold purchases from small-scale miners and traders had dropped to 618 kilograms during the first quarter as against 7,493 kilograms of gold purchased in the same period last year.

The official added that the decline in gold purchases started during the second half of last year when the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) strictly imposed the collection of 2 per cent excise tax and 10 per cent creditable withholding tax on sale of gold by small-scale miners.

The BSP, through its five gold purchase centres in Baguio City, Davao City, Zamboanga City, Naga City and Quezon City, deducts the corresponding taxes from small-scale miners/traders and remits the same to the BIR.

As a consequence, total gold output plummeted by 65 per cent and 57 per cent in volume and value respectively, from 11,427 kilograms.

The Philippines is rich in mineral resources. Aside from gold, both silver and chromite also suffered deficits in mine output. Copper, zinc, nickel and iron, on the other hand, saw production rise during the same period.